Here’s everything I watched in July with notes or links to review posts.
Lord of War (2005). One of Nicolas Cage’s best roles was in this dark comedy, playing an arms dealer. He gets enough power and money to leave his boring life behind, and to impress and marry the woman of his dreams (Bridget Moynahan). Wars continue whether or not he supplies the weapons, so why not be the one to profit? So goes his rationalization, and for a time he convinces himself and manages to hide his work from his wife by explaining it as an international shipping concern. But his conscience eats at him, he can’t keep Interpol agent Ethan Hawke off his tail and gets his brother (Jared Leto) way too involved.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014). The way this started I expected the message that humanity is rotten, the planet better off without us, and new ape overlords would be saintly and far superior. Good thing it went in a more intelligent direction by showing us the apes have the same problems mankind always has and will: evil individuals, bigotry, genocide and senseless violence. The kindly human and ape leaders work for family units and peaceful coexistence but are constantly undermined by hotheads, groupthink and immaturity. Clever touch, comparing the villainous ape to an evil dictator by naming him “Koba,” Lenin’s nickname for Stalin.
Captain Phillips (2013). True story of the Maersk Alabama hijacking by Somali terrorists. Really well done, harrowing, exciting and tense all the way through. Riveting action scenes as that massive tanker at sea tries to evade and hose the little pirate craft. Then it gets almost unbearable in the tight, hot lifeboat as the already reckless and unpredictable attackers get more desperate. Hanks does some of his best acting here, especially memorable is the scene where he’s treated by the Navy doctor. He’s still in a fog of shock and snaps at her questions, until the exhaustion and trauma hit him. After living through this tightly coiled suffering with him, the viewer feels much the same.
Need for Speed (2014). My love of car movies and a poster that reminded me of Days of Thunder (1990) drew me to this dreck. Aaron Paul is a racer and tuner who works with a rich jerk who frames him into a prison term. Paul gets out, looking for revenge, his former partner puts a bounty on him, so now there’s a cross-country race with all other kinds of idiots trying to catch him while Michael Keaton does colour commentary. Just dumb.
Draft Day (2014). Good Ivan Reitman film about negotiations to land the best prospects during an NFL draft. Kevin Costner plays the Browns GM who has to please the fans, the owner (Frank Langella, who wants him to make a splash), the star players they already have (including Tom Welling), the prickly head coach (Denis Leary), and on top of all that, live up to his father’s legacy. Costner wheels and deals and outmaneuvers the competition with some risky and exciting trading. He also has complications with girlfriend Jennifer Garner who’s demanding some commitment and public acknowledgement of their relationship. Costner’s got that cool, calm manner under all this pressure so it’s enjoyable to watch him navigate all the flashy egos and expectations.
Night Train to Lisbon (2013). On his way to school one morning, meek and self-admittedly “boring” Swiss professor Jeremy Irons saves a woman from committing suicide. She gets away from him before he can learn more about her, and leaves behind a rare 40-year-old book by some handsome Portuguese writer. Irons tries using the book to look for the woman, but as a result of being shaken by her attempt and touched by the writing, Irons impulsively hops on a train to Lisbon to seek the author. This Bille August movie is a literary mystery where Irons pieces together clues about the passions and loyalties of those involved in the Carnation Revolution. He eventually finds the mystery woman’s connection to it all, he finds love through a pair of stylish new eyeglasses, and predictably but sweetly, he finds himself. It’s very slow going in parts but just comfortable enough overall to serve as a travel brochure and history lesson given by a nice cast that also includes Christopher Lee, Lena Olin, Charlotte Rampling, and Bruno Ganz.
Her (2013). Excellent Spike Jonze movie about a lonely writer (Joaquin Phoenix) falling in love with his computer’s operating system “Samantha” (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Weird, funny, striking and totally immersive sci fi that’s not too wild a departure from our time. The way people are already glued to their phones instead of the people next to them, it’s easy to imagine them preferring the ease and comfort of a “custom” companion, one that you can design to your specs, over a complicated and challenging real relationship that forces you to grow, hurt or fail. Phoenix’s job in the movie is at a company that writes personal letters for others, a service that further builds this world where emotions are products and interaction is a chore you pay someone else to take care of.
As more people in the story start relationships with their OS’s, it’s seen as just another valid lifestyle choice in an “anything goes” age. There’s something beautiful in the way this unconventional romance teaches both Phoenix and the OS that love is much more than physical. But there’s also something ugly about the selfishness of wanting to have yourself and your needs perfectly reflected back in a romance, as well as something creepy and condescending about the “perfect” and rapidly evolving Samantha who’s consuming her lovers’ psyches as research subjects. Human nature being what it is, Phoenix discovers that conversing with an appliance is too nebulous when he craves exclusivity and a human touch. Complex, amazing performance by Phoenix and a deep experience. Gotta love all those high waisted pants.
Previous months are at the Film Diary tag. Thoughts and suggestions on what to watch next are always welcome.